B-188733, MARCH 29, 1979

B-188733: Mar 29, 1979

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DEPARTMENT OF LABOR: THIS IS IN RESPONSE TO TWO LETTERS FROM YOUR PREDECESSOR. RICKERT WAS THE DISBURSING AGENT FOR THE FUNDS IN ALL FOUR LOSSES. THERE WERE ACTUALLY FOUR SEPARATE LOSSES FROM IMPREST FUNDS AT FOUR DIFFERENT JOB CORPS CENTERS. ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICES ARE NOW AUTHORIZED TO RESOLVE UNRELATED CASES INVOLVING IRREGULARITIES IN ACCOUNTS OF ACCOUNTABLE OFFICERS UP TO $500. WE ARE RETURNING THE CASES INVOLVING THE LOSSES OF $141 AND $131.30 FOR ADMINISTRATIVE RESOLUTION. IT WAS DISCOVERED THAT A LOSS IN THE AMOUNT OF $6. AN INVESTIGATIVE REPORT STATES THAT THE LOSS WAS DISCOVERED DURING A SECURITY CHECK AT 4:30 A.M. THE SAFE WAS IN THE ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT'S OFFICE. GWIN STATES THAT AT THE END OF EACH DAY: "I HAVE MADE A HABIT OF TWIRLING THE KNOB ON THE SAFE IN WHICH I KEEP MY IMPREST CASH.

B-188733, MARCH 29, 1979

ALFRED M. ZUCK, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR:

THIS IS IN RESPONSE TO TWO LETTERS FROM YOUR PREDECESSOR, FRED G. CLARK, TRANSMITTED TO THE GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE (GAO) BY THE CHIEF DISBURSING OFFICER, DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY, REQUESTING RELIEF IN THE AMOUNTS OF $141, $131.30, $6,171.35, AND $1,000 FOR MR. W. L. RICKERT, SPECIAL DISBURSING AGENT, SYMBOL 5294, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA. ALTHOUGH MR. RICKERT WAS THE DISBURSING AGENT FOR THE FUNDS IN ALL FOUR LOSSES, THERE WERE ACTUALLY FOUR SEPARATE LOSSES FROM IMPREST FUNDS AT FOUR DIFFERENT JOB CORPS CENTERS.

ON AUGUST 14, 1974, THE GAO INCREASED THE RESPONSIBILITY OF ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICERS IN DETERMINING THE LIABILITY OF ACCOUNTABLE OFFICERS. 54 COMP.GEN 112 (1974). ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICES ARE NOW AUTHORIZED TO RESOLVE UNRELATED CASES INVOLVING IRREGULARITIES IN ACCOUNTS OF ACCOUNTABLE OFFICERS UP TO $500. THEREFORE, WE ARE RETURNING THE CASES INVOLVING THE LOSSES OF $141 AND $131.30 FOR ADMINISTRATIVE RESOLUTION.

ON OCTOBER 11, 1974, IT WAS DISCOVERED THAT A LOSS IN THE AMOUNT OF $6,171.35 FROM PUBLIC FUNDS IN THE CUSTODY OF MR. WALTER R. GWIN, IMPREST FUND CASHIER, TIMBER LAKE JOB CORPS CENTER, ESTACADA, OREGON, HAD OCCURRED.

AN INVESTIGATIVE REPORT STATES THAT THE LOSS WAS DISCOVERED DURING A SECURITY CHECK AT 4:30 A.M. ON OCTOBER 11. THE SAFE WAS IN THE ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT'S OFFICE. THE INVESTIGATOR'S REPORT STATES:

"IT APPEARS THAT A THIEF BROKE INTO THE BUILDING THROUGH AN UNLOCKED OUTSIDE DOOR, ENTERED A LOCKED OFFICE DOOR BY BREAKING A WINDOW AND OPENED A CLOSED SAFE."

MR. GWIN STATES THAT AT THE END OF EACH DAY:

"I HAVE MADE A HABIT OF TWIRLING THE KNOB ON THE SAFE IN WHICH I KEEP MY IMPREST CASH. I THEN SET THE DIAL AT THE NUMBER 50 AND TRY THE HANDLE."

MR. GWIN SAYS THAT HE FOLLOWED THIS PROCEDURE ON THE DAY OF THE ROBBERY, AND SATISFIED HIMSELF THAT THE SAFE WAS LOCKED BEFORE HE LEFT THE OFFICE. HIS RESUME OF THE INCIDENT SAYS THAT THE SAFE DID NOT APPEAR TO HAVE BEEN FORCED.

THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF LABOR, PURSUANT TO 31 U.S.C. 82A-1 (1970), HAS DETERMINED THAT MR. RICKERT WAS ACTING IN HIS LINE OF DUTY AND THAT THE LOSS OCCURRED WITHOUT FAULT OR NEGLIGENCE ON HIS PART AND IS REQUESTING THAT MR. RICKERT BE RELIEVED.

31 U.S.C. 82A-1 AUTHORIZES OUR OFFICE TO RELIEVE ACCOUNTABLE OFFICERS OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR PHYSICAL LOSS OR DEFICIENCY OF GOVERNMENT FUNDS IF:

" * * * THE HEAD OF THE DEPARTMENT OR INDEPENDENT ESTABLISHMENT DETERMINE (1) THAT SUCH LOSS OR DEFICIENCY OCCURRED WHILE SUCH OFFICER OR AGENT WAS ACTING IN THE DISCHARGE OF HIS OFFICIAL DUTIES, OR THAT SUCH LOSS OR DEFICIENCY OCCURRED BY REASON OF THE ACT OR OMISSION OF A SUBORDINATE OF SUCH OFFICER OR AGENT; AND (2) THAT SUCH LOSS OR DEFICIENCY OCCURRED WITHOUT FAULT OR NEGLIGENCE ON THE PART OF SUCH OFFICER OR AGENT. * * *

IT IS ALSO NECESSARY THAT OUR OFFICE CONCUR IN SUCH DETERMINATIONS.

MR. RICKERT MAY BE GRANTED RELIEF ON THE BASIS THAT HE WAS ACTING IN THE DISCHARGE OF HIS OFFICIAL DUTIES AND WAS WITHOUT FAULT OR NEGLIGENCE. THE ORIGINAL RELIEF REQUEST WAS SUBMITTED ONLY ON BEHALF OF MR. RICKERT. DID NOT APPEAR TO RECOGNIZE THAT EACH IMPREST FUND CASHIER IS ALSO AN ACCOUNTABLE OFFICER WITH RESPECT TO FUNDS IN HIS OR HER CUSTODY AT THE TIME A LOSS OCCURS AND THEREFORE IS ALSO LIABLE UNLESS GRANTED RELIEF. OUR REQUEST, THEREFORE, YOU SUBMITTED A SUBSEQUENT REQUEST FOR RELIEF FOR MR. GWIN, WITH THE REQUIRED FINDINGS.

A GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL CHARGED WITH CUSTODY AND HANDLING OF PUBLIC FUNDS IS EXPECTED TO EXERCISE THE HIGHEST DEGREE OF CARE IN THE PERFORMANCE OF HIS DUTY. WHEN SUCH FUNDS DISAPPEAR WITHOUT EXPLANATION OR EVIDENT REASON, A PRESUMPTION ARISES THAT THE RESPONSIBLE OFFICIAL WAS DERELICT IN SOME WAY. 48 COMP.GEN. 566 (1969). IN THIS CASE, THE INVESTIGATOR'S REPORT INDICATES THAT THERE WAS A FORCIBLE ENTRY OF THE PREMISES BY AN UNKNOWN PERSON OR PERSONS WHO PRESUMABLY THEN OPENED THE LOCKED SAFE AND STOLE THE MONEY SECURED THEREIN. ACCORDING TO MR. GWIN'S OWN STATEMENT, THE SAFE WAS NOT FORCED.

IN THE INSTANT CASE, MR. GWIN HAS STATED THAT HE LOCKED THE SAFE ON THE DAY OF THE THEFT. ALTHOUGH THE SAFE WAS FOUND UNLOCKED IN THE FORCIBLY ENTERED OFFICE DURING A ROUTINE SECURITY CHECK, THERE IS NO EVIDENCE IN THE FILE TO CONTRADICT MR. GWIN'S ASSERTION THAT HE LOCKED THE SAFE THE PRECEDING EVENING AND THAT THE FUNDS WERE INTACT AT THAT TIME. THE INVESTIGATION DID NOT REVEAL ANY EVIDENCE TO IMPLICATE MR. GWIN IN THE THEFT OR THAT HE DID NOT LOCK THE SAFE.

ACCORDINGLY, WE CONCUR WITH THE ADMINISTRATIVE DETERMINATION TO GRANT RELIEF TO MR. GWIN AND THE ACCOUNT MAY BE RESTORED.

RELIEF WAS ALSO REQUESTED FOR MR. RICKERT IN THE AMOUNT OF $1,000 FOR A LOSS IN THE DEPARTMENT OF LABOR IMPREST FUND AT THE COLUMBIA BASIN JOB CORPS CENTER, IDENTIFIED AND REPORTED ON DECEMBER 9, 1975.

MS. JO ANN BUTCHER, PRINCIPAL CASHIER, AND MS. JULIE GRAMMER, ALTERNATE CASHIER, DISCOVERED A CASH SHORTAGE OF $1,000 ON DECEMBER 9, 1975. SUBSEQUENT INVESTIGATION PRODUCED EVIDENCE THAT CORPSMAN RICHARD VALVERDE HAD FORCIBLY ENTERED THE BUILDING, OPENED THE SAFE WHICH WAS LOCATED IN THE WOMEN'S RESTROOM, AND STOLEN $1,000. THERE WAS NO EVIDENCE, HOWEVER, THAT CORPSMAN VALVERDE FORCED THE SAFE OPEN.

CORPSMAN VALVERDE ADMITTED PARTIAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE THEFT, ENTERED INTO A RESTITUTION AGREEMENT AND MADE THREE MONEY ORDER PAYMENTS BEFORE HE DIED ON DECEMBER 18, 1976. THE MONEY ORDERS WERE SUBSEQUENTLY DISHONORED BECAUSE THE COMPANY AGAINST WHICH THEY WERE DRAWN IS NOW DEFUNCT.

CORPSMAN VALVERDE IMPLICATED FORMER CORPSMAN JAMES DELUCA AS HAVING RECEIVED HALF THE STOLEN MONEY, BUT MR. DELUCA DENIED ANY PART OF THE MONEY LOSS. THERE IS NO KNOWN EVIDENCE TO REFUTE MR. DELUCA'S STATEMENT THAT HE WAS NOT INVOLVED, EXCEPT FOR CORPSMAN VALVERDE'S CONFLICTING STATEMENT.

THE DEPARTMENT HAS DETERMINED THAT THE LOSS WAS ATTRIBUTED TO THEFT BY CORPSMAN VALVERDE AND THROUGH NO FAULT OR NEGLIGENCE ON THE PART OF MR. RICKERT, THE DISBURSING OFFICER. WE CONCUR IN THIS DETERMINATION SINCE THE FUNDS WERE NOT IN MR. RICKERT'S CUSTODY AND THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT HE WAS OTHERWISE NEGLIGENT OR AT FAULT IN PERFORMING HIS SUPERVISORY DUTIES. ACCORDINGLY, RELIEF IN THE AMOUNT OF $1,000 IS GRANTED MR. W. L. RICKERT UNDER PROVISIONS OF 31 U.S.C. 82A-1.

THE CASHIERS INDICATED IN SIGNED STATEMENTS THAT THEIR PRACTICE WAS TO PLACE THE DIAL ON THE SAFE IN A PARTIAL COMBINATION POSITION (DAY LOCK) SO THAT FURTHER ACCESS COULD BE OBTAINED DURING THE DAY BY WORKING ONLY THE LAST NUMBER. AT THE END OF THE DAY THEY WOULD SPIN THE DIAL SEVERAL TIMES TO LOCK THE SAFE BEFORE THEY LEFT. ON THE LAST WORKING DAY BEFORE THE THEFT, THE ALTERNATE CASHIER LOCKED THE SAFE, ACCORDING TO HER STATEMENT. THE PRINCIPAL CASHIER SAYS THAT SHE THEREAFTER "GAVE THE SAFE DIAL A COUPLE OF TURNS."

CORPSMAN VALVERDE ADMITTED PARTIAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE THEFT AND IMPLICATED FORMER CORPSMAN DELUCA. ACCORDING TO MR. DELUCA, AS RELATED TO HIM BY VALVERDE, CORPSMAN VALVERDE ENTERED THE BUILDING BY USING A SCREWDRIVER ON A CRACKED WINDOW ON THE NORTH SIDE OF THE BUILDING AND THEN WENT INTO THE WOMEN'S RESTROOM AND TURNED THE COMBINATION DIAL OF THE SAFE IN ONE DIRECTION UNTIL IT CLICKED. VALVERDE TRIED THE LATCH, OPENED THE SAFE AND TOOK THE MONEY OUT OF THE BAG IN THE SAFE. OTHER TESTIMONY BY DELUCA CONCERNING VALVERDE'S ACTIONS, SUCH AS THE LOCATION OF CERTAIN PHYSICAL EVIDENCE, WAS VERIFIED BY INVESTIGATION. THERE IS NO APPARENT REASON FOR DELUCA OR VALVERDE, IN SPEAKING TO DELUCA, TO HAVE MADE FALSE STATEMENTS ABOUT VALVERDE'S MEANS OF GAINING ACCESS TO THE MONEY IN THE SAFE.

IF THE DIAL HAD BEEN PROPERLY SPUN TO LOCK THE SAFE, AS THE CASHIERS HAVE STATED, CORPSMAN VALVERDE COULD NOT HAVE OPENED THE SAFE IN THE MANNER DESCRIBED BY DELUCA WITHOUT KNOWING THE COMBINATION. A LOCKSMITH WHO SERVICED THE SAFE IS REPORTED TO HAVE SAID THAT "VERY SOPHISTICATED KNOWLEDGE AND SOME EQUIPMENT" WOULD HAVE BEEN NEEDED TO OPEN THE SAFE WITHOUT FORCE, AND WITHOUT KNOWING THE COMBINATION, IF IT HAD BEEN FULLY LOCKED. THE RECORD INDICATES THAT A SEALED ENVELOPE IN THE CENTER DIRECTOR'S DESK, CONTAINING THE SAFE'S COMBINATION AND A KEY TO THE CASH BOX, WAS STILL INTACT. THUS, THERE IS THE STRONG POSSIBILITY THAT THE SAFE WAS NOT LOCKED. FAILURE TO LOCK THE SAFE WAS NEGLIGENT AND WAS THE PROXIMATE CAUSE OF THE LOSS.

BOTH MS. BUTCHER AND MS. GRAMMER WERE ON DUTY ON THE LAST WORKING DAY BEFORE THE THEFT AND BOTH HAD ACCESS TO THE FUNDS DURING THAT DAY. ADDITION, THE RECORD INDICATES THAT CUSTOMARILY EITHER CASHIER OPENED OR LOCKED THE SAFE, DEPENDING ON WHO FIRST NEEDED ACCESS TO THE SAFE OR WAS THE LAST TO USE THE SAFE IN THE EVENINGS. HOWEVER, ACCORDING TO A LABOR DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL, MS. BUTCHER, AS THE PRINCIPAL CASHIER, WAS ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE FUND. MS. GRAMMER, AS ALTERNATE CASHIER, WAS SUPPOSED TO ACT AS THE PRINCIPAL CASHIER ONLY WHEN MS. BUTCHER WAS NOT PRESENT.

SINCE MS. BUTCHER WAS ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE IMPREST FUND, WAS PRESENT WHEN THE NEGLIGENCE GIVING RISE TO THE LOSS OCCURRED, AND WAS THE LAST PERSON TO CHECK THAT THE SAFE WAS LOCKED BEFORE THE THEFT, SHE IS LIABLE FOR THE LOSS. WE THEREFORE CANNOT CONCUR WITH THE ADMINISTRATIVE DETERMINATION TO GRANT RELIEF TO MS. BUTCHER. COLLECTION ACTION SHOULD BE INSTITUTED AGAINST HER TO RECOVER THE LOSS.

IN FUTURE, THE DEPARTMENT SHOULD NOT ALLOW A PRINCIPAL AND AN ALTERNATE CASHIER TO HAVE SIMULTANEOUS ACCESS TO AN IMPREST FUND, WITH NO MEANS TO IDENTIFY THE PORTION OF THE FUND FOR WHICH EACH IS RESPONSIBLE.

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